Fear accompanies those who cross roads under attack in central Mozambique
Filomena Raimundo, 33 years old, travels from Maputo to Quelimane, in central Mozambique, and feels a “chill in the belly” when passing through the region converted into a war zone, in central Mozambique. It is the most risky part of the 1,500-kilometer, 20-hour journey.
Filomena carries “difficult memories” of friends who still survived this year, in hospital bed, after attacks by snipers on the side of the roads where at least 30 people have been murdered since August 2019.
The social activist crossed Muxungué and Mutindiri, two sections of the national road number 1 (N1), which crosses Mozambique from north to south.
There are names that the rest of the world has never heard of, but which come to be known for the strength of the bullets.
Now he stretches his legs at the Inchope stop, but will still have to pass through Matenga, on the border between Nhamatanda and Gorongosa, the area most affected by the armed attacks that once again plagued the provinces of Manica and Sofala.
“When I know that we have to pass in an area where attacks are frequently happening, I really feel a chill in the belly”, he reiterates before entering the last leg of the trip.
Filomena’s trip crosses the three sections of the N1 that have been ambushed by buses and cargo vehicles since August 2019, a violence that the Police attribute to the self-proclaimed Military Junta of the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo), a group of dissidents from the largest opposition party which keeps an unknown number of guerrillas entrenched in that area.
The group led by Mariano Nhongo assumes some attacks, rejects others, without having yet clarified what it wants since it rejected the 2019 peace agreement and Ossufo Momade’s leadership at the head of Renamo.
The wave of violence that lasted was triggered on August 6 of last year, after the agreement between the Government and Renamo was formalized, contested by the dissident guerrillas, who allegedly demand better conditions for disarmament.
The Junta continues to threaten to continue to machine-gun authorities and civilians while closing doors to mediation attempts.
“It is very dangerous” to cross the region, he describes to Lusa Lourenço Frechauti, behind the wheel of his truck, as he always considers himself a potential target of the attacking group, despite the strong presence of Government troops.
The truck driver reports a war scenario, with carcasses burned on the side of the road, including a Defense and Security Forces patrol vehicle set on fire by the attackers, several military positions mounted along the road and the permanent threat of ambush by dissidents.
“The road is heavy and painful”, he adds.
In addition to the fear in relation to attacks, it is necessary to stop to “give water” or “give refreshment” – an expression that means to hand over money – in order to “give morale” to government troops to “be able to pass at will”.
The Defense and Security Forces reactivated in January the mandatory escort columns for civilian vehicles on the N1, further south of Inchope, on the Muda Serração-Muxungué section, to repel attacks by armed men.
Various police positions and camps with patrol vehicles were set up on the Muda Serração-Muxungué section, as between Inchope and Gorongosa, in the north, where last week eight passenger buses escorted by police forces were machine-gunned.
“I am very afraid and there is not much security” when crossing the road, Nicola Júnior, a bus driver on the Chimoio-Quelimane route, told Lusa.
The driver passed through the town of Matenga, on his way back from the Zambezia capital, Quelimane, just hours after five buses were attacked on Sunday.
“I am afraid to return to Quelimane”, added Nicola Júnior, who observed that the successive attacks retract passengers: in the last trip he took only eight people to a vehicle with a capacity of 30 seats.
Truck driver Jocilou Semende does not use the routes now under frequent attack, but has already considered not returning to the road for a while, when he lost a colleague during an attack on the N7 national road, which links Mozambique to Zambia and Malawi.
“The Government should help us, it should try to bring the parties together to find out what is happening”, he appealed.
Alberto Simone, a truck assistant, who describes the attacks as serious, is surprised by the successive armed incursions in areas close to the positions of the Defense and Security Forces.
“The attacks are recurrent, it is not known if they are really the men of Renamo or the Liberation Front of Mozambique [Frelimo, government forces], because, generally, civilian men appear in those places of attacks”, close to military positions, he told the Lusa.
“Attacks are always happening. Every day. Only some do not reach the press, ”he said.
While the uncertainty continues, Filomena Raimundo clings to his faith to find courage and pass the last piece of road, where the roar of vehicles is often interspersed with bursts of assault rifles, AK-47.
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